Characteristics of Japanese Gardens

The contrast between western flower gardens and Japanese gardens is profound. Whereas western gardens are typically optimized for visual appeal, Japanese gardens are designed with spiritual and philosophical concepts in mind.

Design Principles to Help Your Japanese Garden Flower
Like most design efforts, Japanese gardens are created with a few key principles in mind. The important principles in Japanese garden design are:

  • Reduced scale. The goal of Japanese garden design is to represent views seen in nature at a more intimate scale. Mountains become hills; rivers become streams. Sometimes this miniaturization can be very specific, but it is often carried out in a more idealized or abstract manner.
  • Symbolization. One way to represent larger natural features is to substitute them with smaller symbols or placeholders. In the Japanese garden, this accomplished through symbolization. The most famous example of this is the use of gravel or coarse sand to represent the ocean. These sand beds frequently feature large rocks that represent islands.
  • Borrowed views. Although this is not always possible, Japanese garden designers often look to incorporate distant scenes into the garden. Mountain, forest and oceans views can be carefully "framed" by grading, ornaments or tree plantings. These framed views often come with a bench or other seating area to help place the viewer at the proper angle to enjoy the framed scene.
  • Enclosure. An important theme in Japanese garden design is that the garden represents an oasis or refuge from everyday life. With that in mind, Japanese garden designers seek to isolate the garden using fences, grading or massed plantings.

Japanese Garden Design Elements

  • Rock. Rocks form the foundation of the Japanese garden. Rocks are so important, in fact, that Japanese gardeners have developed elaborate rules for the selection and placement of rocks. Generally, stones are set in groups of three or in other odd numbered groupings. Stone groupings should seek a balance, between form, texture and color.
  • Water. As an island nation, Japan has an historical affinity for water. In the garden, water plays an important role, both symbolically and literally. Japanese garden bridges, placid pools and even gravel and sand "oceans" remind you that water is an essential part of life and the garden.
  • Plantings. As Japanese gardeners tend to enjoy their gardens all year, plantings need to have utility in more than one season. Evergreens assume an important role, but flowering and deciduous trees are also valued for their burst of spring and fall color.
  • Ornaments. Stone lanterns, and sculptures play an important part in Japanese gardens, serving to draw the eye to a particular view or area. Japanese designers are careful to match the formality of a given ornament to the intention of the design. A temple garden will have a much more formal look than a residential or park-type garden.
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